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Why My Life Is An Open Book

The explosion of social media has made it easy to share everything we do, think and feel with everyone we know. We can even share these intimate details with people we don’t know: prospective employers, future dates, friends of friends and random strangers.

But should we share all that? What does privacy mean for the Facebook generation?

Roughly the same thing it means to the rest of us, it turns out. A new study from the University of California finds that young people value their online privacy as much as older people do, the New York Times reports.

Everyone has to make personal decisions about how much of themselves to put online. As parents, we have to make those choices for our kids, too.

Do you publish your kids’ photos on the Internet? What about their names? Do you write a mommyblog, or keep everything locked to your circle of friends and relatives on Facebook?

You can’t be a parent with an Internet connection and not come up against these questions at some point.

I’ve chosen a pretty transparent life online. Anyone can google me and learn that I have three kids named Ian, Rio and Serena. Their photos are all over the Internet, as are their triumphs and amusing quirks. Their lives are literally an open book, one I write a few pages of almost every day on ChildWild.

What you won’t find is stories of their failures and heartbreaks. You won’t see me ranting angrily about my husband when we fight, or bemoaning the challenges of motherhood without also highlighting its joys. I try not to put anything out there that my kids won’t want to remember, though I’m not shy about posting stuff that will probably embarrass them as teens.

My girls know I have a blog and are fascinated by it – they love appearing as if by magic on my website. I bet they’ll have more complicated feelings about it when they’re older. I’ll probably write about them less then. I share very little personal detail about my teenage stepson; it’s his private life.

I chose the level of openness that was comfortable for me. In part, I chose to be very open because I’m unhappy about the level of fear we’re all surrounded by all the time. It felt important to me to say that I’m not afraid of anyone knowing my name or my kids’ names; I don’t think the Internet is full of predators and social workers lurking around waiting to steal my children. If it were, a pseudonym wouldn’t protect them.

That said, what is comfortable for me is not comfortable for a lot of people. I’m an inveterate memoirist who’s been writing and publishing personal essays since high school. Everyone who has ever been close to me has had to deal with me writing about them.

Most of the parents I know have chosen more online privacy for themselves and their kids. They try to keep their children’s names off the Internet, or post photos only under a pseudonym. There’s a quiet measure of decorum in that, a stepping back from a full-color published record of one’s daily life.

As the under-30 generation is learning now, keeping your inner life private has value. For me, that means walking a careful line between “cute” and “actually embarrassing” for my kids. One I probably cross from time to time. For a lot of people, it means obscuring names and faces, keeping the details of one’s life closer.

How do you navigate the social web? What boundaries have you set for yourself and your children on the Internet? Who are you in the virtual world?

Photo: Alan Cleaver

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